Since the start of this year, thousands of ethnic Hungarians living in Romania have submitted applications to obtain Hungarian passports. And they include the former political dissident, László Tőkés, whose arrest in 1989 was the catalyst that launched the overthrow of Nicolae Ceauşescu’s regime. The bid to reach out to the community in Romania is only a first step. Passports are also being made available to ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, Vojvodina in Serbia, and Transcarpathian Ukraine. On the basis of the estimated numbers of ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries, the operation could provide Budapest with as many as 2.5 million citizens.

Launched on 1st January, the new measure, which has been upstaged by some of Viktor Orbán’s more controversial initiatives, has hardly been reported in the media. And that is regrettable, because it is little more than the organised plundering of the populations in neighbouring countries — a practice that is more characteristic of the Middle Ages than developed post-industrial societies.

We need immigrants similar in behaviour and appearance

With the demographic collapse of Europe, the human factor has become crucially important. Every worker who increases GDP and limits the impact of a declining population is a potential contributor to economic growth. Countries that implement a policy for the active acquisition of citizens often do so because their fertility rates have fallen below the European average of 1.5 children per woman: in Hungary and Romania the fertility rate has fallen to 1.3, in Spain it stands at 1.4. We are a far cry from the 2.1 children per woman, which is a necessary condition for population renewal.

Immigration policy has been adapted to reflect the experience of Western Europe, which has been struggling to integrate immigrants from markedly different cultures. It is no longer a matter of seeking to import labour, but of prospecting for future citizens among compatriots that history has dispersed in other states, who are still markedly similar to us in terms of their behaviour and appearance.

In May 2010, the parliament in Budapest voted almost unanimously to adopt a new law on citizenship. Since 1st January, anyone with a clean criminal record who speaks Hungarian and can provide evidence of their Magyar origins via their parents or grandparents can apply for Hungarian nationality. However, unless they decide to move to the country, the new Hungarians will not be entitled to voting and social rights in Hungary.

Bands of mercenaries hired by Hungarian magnates

Budapest is not the only European capital to launch a call to compatriots living elsewhere. This policy has also been successfully adopted by Romania where a law, which came into force in 2009, grants all the descendants of the pre-war Romanian state the right to Romanian nationality. In the wake of Romania’s accession to the European Union, more than a million Moldovan citizens (who were the main group targeted by this legislation), that is to say one quarter of the Moldova’s population, applied for Romanian passports.

The current context brings to mind the distant memory of bands of mercenaries hired by Hungarian magnates, who were established to the north of the Carpathians until the 18th century, whose sole mission was to bring back prisoners. Entire villages were pillaged and their populations were driven like livestock to the south, where the Hungarians crammed them into their estates. And they did the same thing in the north.

During the war between Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth [a federal republic formed in 1579 by the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which lasted until 1795] in the 1650s, more than three-quarters of the Lithuanian peasant population was captured by Russian troops and deported to Russia where they were used to develop the country. And the same thing is happening today, only the official discourse and the method (and we are fortunate in this regard) have changed.

Must we choose between Eastern Slavs and Vietnamese?

Hungary and Romania’s motive in extending citizenship to residents of neighbouring states is mainly dictated by a nationalist logic. For the Hungarians the policy of offering passports to some degree alleviates the shame of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which cost the country three-quarters of its territory, while the Romanians are hoping to compensate for the loss of Bessarabia (present day Modova) which was annexed by the USSR in 1940.

For Spain, the quest for new citizens is also a bid to right the wrongs of history, but it is prompted by motives that are completely different from those of the Hungarians and the Romanians. In 2008, José Luis Zapatero’s socialist government adopted a law which stipulates that all of the descendants of those who fled the country during the Civil War or the oppression of the Franco era should be entitled to a Spanish passport. As it stands, approximately half a million people, who are mainly the descendants of refugees who fled to Cuba, Argentinian and other Latin American countries, have submitted applications.

Poland has yet to respond enthusiastically to this trend. And this is all the more surprising when you consider that, like other European countries, we are also struggling with population decline, and we could potentially take advantage of Polish speaking communities in the jurisdictions of our eastern neighbours. The repatriation of the 1990s, or the 2007 Polish Card scheme [Karta Polaka – an official document which recognises the Polish nationality of residents in other countries who are unable to apply for dual citizenship], are small beer when compared to the measures implemented by Hungary, Romania and Spain. If we are reluctant to recruit Poles or Eastern Slavs who resemble us, the demographic shortfall in this country will be made up by the Vietnamese. The choice is up to us.